For 15 years, House of Blues Anaheim has hosted big-name talent in its 1,000-capacity concert hall, which was quickly nicknamed the Mouse House by locals due to its location, right in the heart of Downtown Disney.
Throughout those years, legends such as B.B. King, James Brown, Ray Charles and Etta James all graced the stage. There were also numerous intimate evenings with rockers such as the Cramps, Joe Sturmmer, Foo Fighters and Motörhead. Mega pop stars like Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears randomly dropped in. It has also been the place for fans to enjoy multiple-night runs by O.C. staples Social Distortion and L.A. punks Bad Religion.
After a handful of local rock and ska bands take the stage on May 29, House of Blues will officially end its chapter in Downtown Disney and prepare to reopen an all-new, state-of-the-art facility in early November, just down the street on Katella Avenue where the UltraLuxe Cinemas were once located inside the Anaheim GardenWalk.
“We’re excited about the future, but bittersweet about the past,” Ron Bension, president of House of Blues Entertainment, said. “We had a great run on the Disney property, but we’re really excited about having this new venue coming on board in a few months that will incorporate everything we’ve learned over the last 15 years in Orange County and everything we’ve learned as a company over the last 25 years.”
The old venue officially opened on Jan. 12, 2001 with two sold-out nights by Orange County’s own rock band Lit. It will be replaced by a much larger complex that will include a 2,000-capacity main concert hall for bigger touring acts and events, a 400-capacity smaller room (which may be called the Parish) for smaller artists, singer-songwriter evenings, release parties and corporate meetings, a 175-capacity Foundation Room and a much larger restaurant and kitchen then it was able previously to house.
“We’ve really learned so much since building the House of Blues in Anaheim,” Bension continued, noting that they’ve taken patrons’ concerns to heart, including the constant gripe about the sometimes impossible stage sight lines at the current venue. They’ve created multiple levels within the new main concert hall that include several platforms and a seated mezzanine to improve upon the view of the stage from all corners of the space. “We’re doubling the size while maintaining the intimacy,” he added.
The Downtown Disney location never had the space for a Foundation Room, which is standard at other House of Blues locations and was once pretty legendary within the now permanently closed House of Blues Los Angeles. That will be remedied with the new facility and the Foundation Room will feature a full bar, nightly entertainment of its own and a viewing platform of the stage in the main concert hall.
“The Orange County opening will celebrate the 25th year of House of Blues so that’s really exciting to be able to kick off the next generation of growth,” Bension said. “It’s been 10 years since our last (new) building, which was in Houston, so for this to be the first one in over a decade and to also have it represent the kick-off of our 25th anniversary and to serve as the model going forward, that’s kind of cool.”
Since Lit helped open the venue 15 years ago, it seems appropriate that they’d be one of the last acts to help close the current location down. Counting its final sold-out headlining gig on Friday, the Fullerton-based group will have played the Mouse House 15 times.
Bassist Kevin Baldes said one of his favorite memories was being able to open for metal gods Judas Priest. After two back-to-back sold-out headlining Lit shows, they wanted to add a third evening to their run, but Priest were scheduled to headline that particular Sunday. Somehow, the guys got Priest to agree to allow them to serve as their opener.
“We get in front of like the strict, hardcore metal people and there were quite a few that liked us and then some that you could just hear yelling ‘Booooooooo!’” he said with a laugh. “Those people hated us, but we still had a good time.”
Baldes has attended the venue as a fan and as a professional photographer who has shot acts such as Willie Nelson, Social Distortion and Foo Fighters there. Guitarist Jeremy Popoff is also a fan and has gone out to see country artists like Dustin Lynch, Kip Moore, A Thousand Horses, Blackberry Smoke and Jamey Johnson.
However bittersweet the transition, both musicians are excited about an all-new House of Blues opening in their home county.
“I think it’s going to be the premier venue in Southern California, not just in Orange County,” said Popoff, who also owns Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen in Fullerton. “It’s going to rival most spots in Los Angeles and I think it’s going to be state-of-the-art, top-notch and a killer place to see shows. They’ll probably also be able to book more shows and not have to ask Mickey Mouse for permission for every band they book.
“All bands love to play House of Blues. They have the best staff,” he added. “They know what they’re doing. They’ve created this cool kind of culture in all of the venues across the country. They’re all different, but they all have that common theme of quality about them and you’re never bummed when you find out you’re playing at a House of Blues.”
From the Orange County Register